Statistics show that people are working for longer, retiring later and entering the workforce earlier creating an intergenerational workforce. This has resulted in the largest age range in the workforce at the same time ever. This has created a phenomenon never seen before where people are trying to navigate groups and group dynamics while having to juggle elements like coworker age, industry experience, technological changes and market changes.
Each team has people from all generations - baby boomers, millennials, generation X and generation Z. Each of these generations has their own experiences to offer and at the same time, because technology is growing at such a rapid pace, people who are unable to keep up with the changes taking place are being let go off. This presents the dilemma of employee development to the human resources department because technology is driving employee turnover rates higher than ever before.
Along with all these changes, the world economic forum suggests that by 2022, there will be 75 million jobs lost to automation and 130 million more would be created for maintaining and implementing automation. The shift in tasks is taking place from labor-based tasks to tasks that require more soft skills as well as technical skills. This poses the question, “What should the employers’ focus on developing? Technical skills or soft skills?”
Before trying to understand how intergenerational dynamics function, let's dive into how groups function.
There is a group methodology that is inherently followed in every group which is a 4 stage process-
This is the first step in the group building cycle. It is important to spend as much quality time as possible in this stage since this forming the base of building a group.
Here people introduce themselves. In a workplace, this involves sharing past experiences, current roles and expertise in fields. Many compare this stage to entering a new friend group. You meet new people, see how everyone gels together etc.
Just like a storm, this stage is the most chaotic one. People recognise their professional and group goals. When the reality hits that goals need to be met, personalities start clashing to get work done. Ideas are thrown around and methods are developed to meet the set directive.
A lot of the times people try to avoid conflicts. What this ends up doing is that these conflicts slowly build up and blow up when it comes to delivering results.
This is when team members start to recognise each other. They understand the initially introduced expertise and learn how to rely on each other for completing the tasks toward meeting the goal. Conflicts don’t entirely vanish but that is just the result of people with different personalities working together. This is magnified in groups where people of all ages come together.
By this stage of group development, the team is confident in its ability to meet the target. They have defined their processes and can work without supervision. This is where there is the least conflict, sometimes even none. The people understand their roles in the team and are working rapidly towards reaching the endpoint.
Now that we know how groups function, let’s dive into how age plays a role in teams. Let's begin by discussing stereotypes for generations. And side note when I say generational stereotypes, I mean that they are not really true, usually is just a perception from a group of people and alienate individuals because of age, bordering ageism.
Breaking Down the Intergenerational Workforce
Often seen as the old, cynical and technologically backwards, this generation has a lot more than the eye can see. Just because your 60-year-old uncle cannot use his new laptop, does not mean that Tim Cook (age 59) is also technologically backward.
Not only this generation literally has the most expertise in the industry, but their life experience also makes them capable of managing people better. They have the most hands-on experience and the chances are that this generation helped build almost all the innovative technology. Everyone has heard the phrase ‘a pen is mightier than the sword’ but they often forget that pen symbolises knowledge and wisdom - the two of the biggest features boomers have to offer.
The stereotype assigned to this generation is that they are lazy, narcissistic and entitled. TIME magazine almost singlehandedly managed to name millennials the Me Me Me Generation. After all these tags, labels and other debasing arguments against them, they have managed to highlight the world’s problems. From global warming and corporate dishonesty to accepting identities and school shootings. Now you may wonder how this impacts a group dynamic? They are the ones who champion inclusivity and fairness in a group.
They help make all members feel comfortable in their tasks while also pointing out any and all unethical actions. For a Me Generation, they are extremely selfless and have a good work ethic.
Now let’s get on to the Tik Tok generation that seems to break all the rules and has everything handed to them. This generation is one that has not lived in a world without technology. Since they have been in pre-school, they have had their hands on phones, tablets and computers. They have grown into technical geniuses and following the footsteps of the generation before, they don’t stand for injustice. Greta Thunberg is a shining example of a generation Z leader making waves in the world.
When one grows up surrounded by technology, their affinity to it is extremely high. They have managed to crack the code of reaching out to people through social media and can do wonders for marketing a phenomenon. They act as a catalyst with solutions to many of your problems and accelerate the group forming processes.
Incorporation in Corporations
A mix of these three generations makes for many conflicting personalities, ideologies and people. Forming a base for this kind of a group can be a difficult task but once it is done and the group enters the norming stage, their dependence on each other will be an example for the ages. A study done with over 18000 employees in Germany yielded surprising results.
This graph highlights a lot of different functions. It shows how productivity changes as the group become more and more diverse in age. As the group becomes more diverse, the cost of maintaining such a group increases, but, there is a sweet spot. If you look at curve K, you can see that the benefits of diversity are maximum in creative tasks and a little less in routine tasks. This aligns with our initial assumption that each generation has ideas and pointers that can benefit a group.
As diversity keeps increasing, you might notice a fall in productivity (after point H*k). This happens because in a group that is so diverse, agreeing upon any factor in the workplace becomes a difficult task in itself. This is where a really good manager can come in and promote group work. A decision-maker who is respected and takes calculated decisions can really boost the productivity of the team by leaps and bounds. As the graph suggests, having an intergenerational workforce would be ideal in organisations that are involved in a creative field. This makes even more sense when we take into account the automation revolution that is on the rise. Organisations are making routine tasks automated because that is now a possibility and on the other hand creative and intellectual fields are constantly rising by leveraging automation. In a corporate environment, a team-based environment is mostly used for developing creative techniques and innovating while individuals are assigned monotonous tasks because repeating the same task once learnt, shows no room for growth.
Management that follows Servant Leadership
In the past 5 years, educational institutes, as well as progressive organisations, are adopting the concept of servant leadership. This kind of leadership module says that the role of the leader is not authoritarian. Instead, they should focus on developing their team and give them the support they need so that they can focus on being productive.
It deals with the 5 C’s of leadership - Competency, Commitment, Courage, Candour, and Consistency. Each of these is a central attribute that a good leader should hold to create a team that trusts in the leader and at the same time make moral as well as valuable decisions. This is vital in improving employee engagement and has lasting impacts on the functioning of a team.
Fluctuating dynamics in an intergenerational workforce
So far I have shied away from talking about how the different ages really impact a team. It’s because they don’t. For a team to function properly, there needs to be a common goal and enough people to carry it out. In a corporate environment, this is usually taken care of by the manager. There is a chance that the storming stage while building the team can take longer, but, the result that is derived from such a group is an all-inclusive solution that has received criticism from a diverse group of people which would mean that it is really difficult to find flaws in.
As long as the common goal decided for the team is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Time-based), the members will align there task to complement each other and under good direction from a supervisor, they will be producing marvellous results in no time.
Most people, regardless of generation, aspire for the same goals. Maslow’s hierarchy is independent of age after all. To have a high-functioning team that is working properly towards the same goal, employee engagement is the big factor and not the diversity of the group. The aim of the company should be to make sure that the individual needs that provide the team support, are taken care of and promoting employee development is one of the top goals.
The use of automation and technology is going to become vital by 2022 and the creative and intergenerational workforce is going to produce the best results. Repeated tasks are going to be automated, and technical skills, as well as soft skills, are going to become the most needed skills in contrast to skills that require manual effort.